General Dentistry 101: How Can You Tell if You Have a Cavity?

Do you have a cavity?

A cavity can be a painful nuisance, which could mean an emergency visit to your dentist if you don’t take care of it early enough. However, it’s not always easy to tell when cavities begin developing, especially if you don’t take the time to inspect your teeth regularly. 

Because cavities can quickly lead to more serious tooth decay issues, catching the problem quickly is vital. Learn some of the most common signs that you may have a cavity so that you can take prompt action. 

Understanding Dental Cavities

Cavities are holes that form on the surface of your teeth. When acids in your mouth wear down the hard coating of your teeth, called enamel, bacteria can enter the tooth and start causing damage. If you don’t resolve the problem, you may experience pulp damage and even develop an infection. 

It’s important to understand what can cause dental cavities. The bacteria in your mouth feed on starchy and sugary food and drink, converting them into acids. The bacteria, food, saliva, and acid mix, eventually forming plaque on the surface of your teeth. Dental plaque is a sticky substance that begins to coat your teeth. 

Without proper brushing and flossing, which removes plaque, the acids dissolve the enamel. Over time, plaque hardens and becomes tartar, which is much more difficult to remove and requires the help of a dental expert. 

Signs and Symptoms of a Cavity

There are some very important warning signs you want to watch for that can point to the development of a cavity. These include:

  • Bad taste in your mouth 
  • Bad breath
  • Toothache
  • Sensitivity to cold and hot foods and drinks
  • Bleeding gums
  • Facial swelling
  • Holes in the enamel
  • Discolored teeth

The first stage of a cavity formation is demineralization. You may notice chalky, white patches on the surface of your teeth. This occurs because of a breakdown in the enamel. The next stage is enamel decay, which is when you notice a small hole in your tooth. 

Following that, you can develop dentin decay. Dentin is the substance that rests just below your tooth enamel. Once bacteria and acids reach the dentin, cavities form faster. That is when you may first notice tooth sensitivity. 

Your tooth’s innermost layer is the pulp, which contains blood vessels and nerves. If the cavity reaches the pulp, you can start to experience significant pain and swelling.

If left untreated, a cavity at this stage may lead to an abscessed tooth or infection. This results in a pocket of pus that forms at the tip of your tooth’s root. 

When you turn to a general dentistry expert for regular checkups, they can spot the earliest signs of a cavity. The sooner you catch the cavity, the easier it will be to treat it and prevent it from getting worse. An untreated cavity can cause serious damage to your oral health.  

If the cavity is caught early enough, you may only need to get fillings. If it’s more advanced, dental crowns may be a better option

Home Self-Examination Tips

In the earliest stages of tooth decay, you may not notice much at home. You want to inspect your teeth regularly, though, to look for signs like white patches. Keep in mind that your enamel doesn’t have nerves, so you won’t feel pain when the cavity has only affected this hard layer. 

In later stages, you may see more discoloration. Your tooth may turn a bit darker. Something else you want to watch for is the beginning stages of a hole in your tooth. When you brush your teeth, pay attention to whether you feel any tooth sensitivity. If that’s the case, it could mean there are bacteria in the inner part of your tooth. 

You also want to check for bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth. Do you experience this often? It could mean it’s time for professional help. 

Something else you want to look at is your gums. They should be a healthy pink color. If you see that they’re pale or red, or if you notice they’re swollen, you’ll want to reach out to your dental expert for an examination. 

Remember that experts will always have better knowledge and experience, allowing them to catch cavities much sooner than you can, so keeping up with regular checkups is essential. 

Quality Care From Dentists in Newport Beach

Cavities can impact your oral health. You want to always be on the lookout for them, but since they’re not easy to spot at their earliest stages, turning to professionals can help. At Luminous Smiles, we provide the dental services you need, no matter what kind of general dentistry issues you face. Reach out to our team today to schedule an appointment.